07 Aug 2012
National Instruments Introduces VST Software Designed Instrument
LabVIEW and PXI company National Instruments has introduced a new form of test instrument they call a software designed instrument in the form of a vector signal transceiver or VST, their PXIe-5644R.
The new PXIe-5644R software designed instrument consists of a vector signal generator and vector signal analyzer with a user-programmable FPGA in one PXI module which provides up to 6.0 GHz frequency coverage and 80 MHz instantaneous RF bandwidth.
While the combination of a vector signal generator and vector signal analyser as the complete VST is an achievement on its own, this is not the major key feature. Using the equivalent of software defined radio technology, the new instrument is completely configurable. As National Instruments state, for too long updates to an existing item of test equipment have needed costly firmware upgrades or even instrument replacement when specifications are upgraded. Using the new NI PXIe-5644R, upgrades can be developed by NI or by the user and applied directly to the instrument to enable it to meet the new requirements.
The PXIe-5644R VST provides a paradigm shift in capability. Placing the vector signal generator and vector signal analyser in the same package and with control of the FPGA via LabVIEW or other means this not only allows the software designed capabilities to be implemented but by allows much faster operation because the FPGA in the instrument close to the I/O enables significant increases in speed of test to be achieved. Figures of around two orders of magnitude have been noted with some configurations.
Combined with this the instrument is much smaller than an equivalent combination of vector signal generator and analyser, and there are significant cost savings when compared to that of the boxed equivalents. With the NI PXIe-5644R RF vector signal transceiver, VST costing around $45 000 this is significantly cheaper than the cost of equivalent separate boxed instruments that could be around $120 000 or more.
The new NI PXIe-5644R software designed instrument has already been trialled with selected customers for testing applications such as 802,11ac where its significant speed increases have enabled full characterisation of far more aspects of the design than would previously have been possible. This has brought many benefits in terms of capability and efficiency.
“At Qualcomm Atheros, instrumentation flexibility and to-the-pin control are critical for keeping our RF test process as efficient as possible, and we're pleased with the performance gains we've seen when testing with NI's new vector signal transceiver,” said Doug Johnson, director of engineering at Qualcomm Atheros. “The NI PXIe-5644R provides us freedom and flexibility in the way we develop our 802.11ac solutions for our customers, and has significantly improved our test throughput.”
In addition to this, placing a number of the instruments together in the same rack has allowed MIMO channel emulation to be accomplished. By achieving this it is possible undertake considerably more realistic testing of MIMO scenarios than was previously possible.
Commenting on the new development, Dr. James Truchard, president, CEO and cofounder of National Instruments said: “A quarter-century ago, NI redefined instrumentation with LabVIEW system design software, and now we are doing it again with our vector signal transceiver. When we first started our company, we envisioned the central role software would play in instrumentation, and now we are truly seeing LabVIEW revolutionize the way engineers approach RF design and test.”
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